Chris Muers, Product Marketing Manager, Ford UK
At the recent WorldDAB General Assembly in London, in November 2015, Ford UK, told an international audience why ‘Ford UK have embraced the opportunity to contribute to the transitioning of the UK to digital radio.’
Ford – A DAB history
Market leaders, Ford were the first manufacturers to offer DAB digital radio as an option in the UK. In 2015, they introduced DAB as standard in their best-selling Fiesta Zetec t series. “In trying to decide whether to add DAB radio to our vehicles, we had to look at the customer view and also the environment in which we operate.”
What is the motivation for installing DAB in today’s cars?
By November 2015, 74% of cars sold in the UK last year had DAB fitted as standard. So how did Ford make the decision to install DAB as standard?
In their own words, “In trying to decide whether to add DAB radio to our vehicles we had to look at the customer view and also the environment in which we operate.”
Many drivers enjoy radio in the car. In the UK, radio is a popular choice, with 20% of drivers listening to the radio in the car. Ford understands that drivers value the benefits of DAB in-car including increased choice, ease of use and clarity of signal. To encourage take-up of digital radio in-car and justify the investment car companies have made in digital radio technology development coverage has to be there.
For a global company who operate in a market where 80 million cars are sold worldwide, working on an individual market specific product was a risk. Car manufacturers including Ford need certainty for long-term planning, “After all, we’re selling cars, not radios. And we can’t simply bolt on a radio as an afterthought. Integration has to happen early. The radio has to work alongside hundreds of other electronic systems in the vehicle without causing any interference or other issues.”
Ford saw real take up of DAB digital radio in the UK when coverage started to develop. As coverage improved so too did DAB as standard in volume product cars such as the Ford C-Max, 2010, and Ford Focus, 2011. Support and certainty also encouraged Ford to use DAB as a key theme in the advertising campaign for the Ford Focus.
Along with coverage, Ford stressed that drivers need a reason to choose DAB in markets and on brands that still only offer DAB as an option. In Ford’s own consumer research van drivers particularly value DAB due to sports, news and business programmes. Sound quality equivalent to or better than FM is also something which drivers expect from DAB and Ford warn broadcasters not to overload multiplexes and reduce the quality of signal.
Keeping radio relevant in the car
There is concern from car manufacturers generally that radio needs to remain simple, easy to use and provide services over and above FM, “There are also ‘broadcaster issues’ though that will be viewed by the driver as ‘manufacturer issues’. Unfortunately the drivers cannot distinguish between the two.” There is still work to be done to ensure drivers receive the best digital radio experience in cars and establish digital radio in cars in a time frame which is seeing the share of ear in-car for radio possibly eroding, especially as car companies start to offer more services and options – for example Ford Sync and the continued discussions on connected cars at all major car events.
While Ford continues with its plans to feature DAB/DAB+ across all its ranges as ‘standard being our default position or as an affordable option’ they called on broadcasters to do their part and ‘provide a seamless, high quality listening experience to the vehicle audience.’
The final element is the need to communicate the value of DAB to used car drivers. Once this is done, DAB will be regarded as an essential rather than a ‘nice to have’.
WorldDAB is committed to promoting DAB to the car industry and recently hosted a session at Geneva International Motor Show on 8 March 2016. WorldDAB Automotive 2016 will be again held in Brussels on 11 May 2016.